How To Use This Site
The menu is located at the top of the page and it includes the following:
The front page, which includes the latest updates and a list of the last 40 entries I've transcribed.
About This Project
I explain why this site exists and list some recommended books on Samuel Johnson and his dictionary.
How To Use & FAQ
Here you can see which authors are quoted the most, what percentage of the words are nouns or come from Greek roots, or see if Johnson held to his plan to exclude authors alive in his time.
History of Johnson's Dictionary
Here you can read Johnson's original "Plan", learn about the Lord Chesterfield patronage fiasco, read poetry praising the dictionary and other contemporaneous documents.
Johnson explains his methodology (it differs somewhat from the "Plan").
The History of the English Language
Johnson traces the history of English from Anglo-Saxon to his day via extensive quotations.
A Grammar of the English Tongue
Johnson examines the structure of English in four sections: Orthography (Spelling), Etymology, Syntax, and Prosody.
You can browse the Dictionary entries that have already been transcribed three different ways: alphabetically, page-by-page, or by quoted author. You can also search through them using the search box. Entries that have NOT been transcribed yet can only be viewed in Page View.
A short trivia game - how well do you know Johnson's Dictionary?
This will bring up a random dictionary entry.
If you would like a specific entry transcribed, if you catch a typographical error, or if you have questions or comments, please feel free to contact me.
You can quickly jump around the dictionary using the navigation drop-down boxes. Under the title “Page View” and above the image and page number are two drop-down boxes – “1. Select a Section” and “2. Select a Page”. If you wanted to find “time,” for instance, you would select “T” from the first box. This causes the “2. Select a Page” box to be filled in with the pages from the “T” section, enabling you to select “Tillyfally – Time.” Press the “3. GO” button and that page is loaded.
Once you have located an entry to view, you will see a screen like this:
The default view is the transcription.
The transcriptions retain Johnson's spelling, with the exception that "ʃ" is replaced with "s", as this is easier for me to type and it will make searching within entries easier. Johnson's "diʃtinct" will thus be rendered "distinct." It is also difficult to properly depict Johnson's Saxon orthography in HTML; I will do my best to follow current standard practices for displaying Old English. In "The History of the English Language," Johnson quotes long blocks of Old English, and for help in transcribing these I consulted Johnson on the English Language (The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, vol. 18, edited by Gwin J. Kolb and Robert Demaria, Jr.). I was comforted when I read that they also struggled with finding a modern equivalent for his peculiar orthography. In addition, where Johnson uses a standard ligature for representing the Saxon þæt, I have had to write out the entire word, as that ligature does not exist in Unicode. Finally, Johnson uses a bracket - like this: } - to join together three or more consecutive lines in a poem that share an end rhyme and to create outlines. I have not kept this bracket in my transcriptions to make HTML markup easier. In the case of outlines (see below), indentations will serve the same purpose as Johnson's brackets.
A great help in deciphering the numerous ligatures commonly found in Renaissance representations of Ancient Greek (and thus in Johnson's etymologies) is Schmidhauser's Renaissance Greek font (specifically, the RGreekL2 chart).
I have also added the following stylistic features to make reading easier: Headwords are printed in red. Definitions (and quotations which serve the purpose of definitions) are printed in black. Illustrative quotations are rendered in blue.
If you wish to see the entry exactly as it appears in the dictionary, click on View Scan. Then you will see an image like this:
For each of these, I compared the British Library and the Harvard Library scans, and chose the most legible version. These scans are taken from old microfilm copies, and the quality is sometimes lacking. Some of them therefore are faded or twisted.
You can click on the page number to view that entry in "Page View" surrounded by its fellow entries.
Below the entry, there are a number of boxes. The first, Sources, lists the authors/books Johnson quotes or references in the entry. You can click on the names/titles to see a list of that source's other entries. The second box, Search for this word in:, allows you to look up the entry in a variety of contemporary dictionaries. Note: Not every word will be able to be successfully found in every dictionary. Underneath this second box, you will find tools that allow you to leave comments, or to share the entry via Twitter, Google+, Reddit, and Facebook.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why are there differences between Page View and the transcription scans? Aren't they both supposed to be from the 1st edition?
They are both 1st edition copies, despite the differences. The Page View scans are taken from a facsimile copy of Johnson's dictionary; the transcription scans are from microfilm copies. The differences result from the way books were printed in Johnson's time. A printing house would have multiple pressmen working on the same book section at any given time. Each pressman had to typeset the page, and unique human errors thus crept into different copies of the same book. The pressmen identified which sections they printed by placing a small number, or "press figure," at the bottom of their pages. Here is an example from p. 55 of the dictionary:
British Library Microfilm
|Page View Scan
Facsimile Copy, AMS Press, 1967
For this section of the dictionary, then, pressman #1 printed the pages found in the transcription scan copy of the dictionary, while pressman #6 printed the pages found in the Page View version. For more on the variations found, consult William B. Todd's note (#242, "Variants in Johnson's Dictionary, 1755") in Book Collector, Vol. 14 (1965), No. 2, pages 212-214. There he lists at least 13 variant copies of the 1st edition.
2. How much did Johnson's dictionary weigh?
According to Paul Groves, “The first edition was a cumbersome 2,300-page volume weighing about 22lbs, the weight of a large turkey.”
Source: “Johnson’s Dictionary: Dr Johnson’s World in Just 42,773 Words; Dr Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is 250 Years Old.” Birmingham Post, April 9, 2005, p. 43-44.
Henry Hitchings (quoted by Groves at various times in the above article) states that the first edition was “around twenty pounds.” (Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, p. 209 – The book is listed under Recommended Reading).
3. What is the Latin poem on the title page?
It is from Horace's Epistles, where Horace is addressing those who want to write poetry that will be considered great. Here is a translation by Andrew Wood (Edinburgh: William P. Nimmo, 1872):
|Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti:
Audebit, quaecumque parum splendoris habebunt.
Et sine pondere erunt, et honore indigna ferentur.
Verba movere loco; quamvis invita recedant,
Et versentur adhuc inter penetralia Vestae:
Obscurata diu populo bonus eruet, atque
Proferet in lucem speciosa vocabula rerum,
Quae priscis memorata Catonibus atque Cethegis,
Nunc situs informis premit et deserta vetustas. Hor.
|That with his tablets he take up the mind
Of a fair critic, and if words he find
Which sparkle lack and weight, and which may seem
Inane — in short, unworthy of his theme —
These to expunge he will not hesitate,
Though their removal ‘gainst his will may grate,
And though they still may — hid from mortal eye —
In the recesses of his sanctum lie.
A worthy poet for the people’s use
Will ferret out, and to the light produce
Expressive terms long hid from public view,
Used by old Cato and Cethegus too,
Though now they’re cover’d by unsightly mould
And dust of what is obsolete and old;
New words he’ll use if sanction’d they shall be
By custom — parent of all novelty;
Impetuous — flowing like a river pure —
His treasures he’ll pour forth, and thus procure
The boon of a rich tongue for Latium
4. How do you read the Anglo-Saxon font?
|A a||A a||B b||B b|
| c||C c||D ꝺ||D d|
| ||E e||F ꝼ||F f|
| ᵹg||G g|| h||H h|
|I ı||I i||J ȷ||J j|
|K k||K k||L l||L l|
| m||M m||N n||N n|
|O o||O o||P p||P p|
|Q q||Q q||R ꞃ||R r|
| ꞅ||S s||T ꞇ||T t|
|U u||U u||V v||V v|
|Ƿ ƿ||W w||X x||X x|
|Y ẏy||Y y||Z z||Z z|
|Æ æ||Æ æ||Ð ð||th in other or smooth|
|þ||th in three||œ||oe|
|჻||Paragraph separator||||þæt = the, that|
|||et = &|
5. Which typeface/font is the dictionary printed in?
The answer to this question (or the closest I can come to one) can be found in the essay "The typographic design of Johnson's Dictionary" by Paul Luna in Anniversary Essays on Johnson's Dictionary, edited by Jack Lynch and Anne McDermott.
"In type design, the faces cut by William Caslon in the 1720s and 1730s provided a systematic (though not wholly uniform) set of related roman, italic, and small-cap founts in a full range of sizes. [...] Johnson's printer, William Strahan, bought his types from the Scottish typefounder Alexander Wilson, who offered faces 'conformable to the London types,' in other words close in design to those of Caslon." (p. 179)
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